Climate bonds


A dull shade of green


A modest, but important, addition to climate finance

气候金融新工具 微小动作大意义

2011年10月29日| 印刷版




REDUCING the risks of climate change is not a technological problem. There are many ways to generate electricity, drive cars or grow crops without emitting much carbon dioxide—but they are expensive. According to the International Energy Agency, $13.5 trillion must be invested in low-carbon energy by 2035 to reduce emissions. That sort of money can be found only on capital markets. Yet investors’ appetite for green schemes is unproven.



Hence growing interest in one of the more promising efforts to encourage it: “green bonds”. These instruments look like any other fixed-income offering except that the proceeds are invested in environmentally friendly projects. Estimating the size of the market is hard: according to Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), an NGO, between $10 billion and $30 billion of bonds related to renewable-energy projects have been issued. Bonds that are explicitly advertised as green, mostly issued by the World Bank and other multilateral lenders, are easier to count. Around $5 billion-worth have been issued; by one estimate, they could amount to $30 billion by 2015.

有鉴于都想勾起投资人的食欲,大家向着更有奔头的方向努力的热情日益高涨:“绿色债券” 就是方向之一。这种金融工具看起来和其它固定收益债券非常相似,区别就在于债券的收益将投资到环保项目中。不过市场规模有多大,估测起来却不容易:根据非政府组织气候债券先导(CBI)的推测,大约已有100亿到300亿美金的债券发行是与可再生能源挂钩的。世界银行和其它多边债权人明码标上绿色而发行的债券倒是好算,目前已有高达50亿美元的绿色债券推向了市场;据估计,到2015年债券总额将能达到300亿美元。


Some see an opportunity in this. On October 19th State Street Global Advisors (SSgA), a big asset-management firm, unveiled a green-bond investment strategy. In the absence of a green-bond index, the relevant portfolios will be bound by certain rules. They will be dominated by green bonds, rated AA or higher, and include those of at least three issuers, with none commanding a majority of the portfolio. According to Sean Kidney, CBI’s boss: “This is the first time one of the big beasts has dipped its toe into the water.”



Greenness aside, such bonds are indistinguishable from any other investment-grade “plain vanilla” security. They carry no extra costs: investors are not exposed to the risks in the World Bank projects that are funded by the bonds. Nor do they profit if those projects, which typically include renewable-energy initiatives and reforestation schemes, do well.



So why bother to invest at all? One answer is the indirect benefit that investors derive from addressing the economic risks of global warming. To encourage this, the World Bank briefs them on its green projects. A more obviously venal motive is that green investing is good for the image—unusually, the World Bank publishes the names of investors in its green offerings.



A funkier sort of green bond was once envisaged. When expectations of carbon markets were higher, plans were afoot for bonds offering a mixture of financial returns and carbon credits. The new conservatism reflects the winnowing of those expectations. It also represents a hardened appreciation that few institutional investors—even in do-gooding Scandinavia—will pay a premium for green. “They aren’t clamouring for green investment opportunities,” admits Chris McKnett, SSgA’s head of environmental, social and governance investing. “For this to work at scale there can be no haircuts involved in putting money into green, rather than brown or vanilla.”



The rise of dull green bonds should address a perception among some investors that climate-change investments must involve a catch. “There’s a bit of cynicism,” says Stuart Kinnersley of Nikko Asset Management, a big investor in World Bank green bonds: “There’s a general belief that you’re paying more for this extra bit of green, even though you’re not.”



But these instruments are only a stepping stone to the much greater capital flow that greening the world economy will require. For that to materialise, investors will have to conclude that low-carbon developments offer stable returns. Some signals have been discouraging: a bond issued by CRC Breeze Finance, a vehicle formed to raise cash for a fleet of wind farms, was downgraded to junk after their sails turned less than predicted. Others are more hopeful: tumbling costs of wind and solar energy suggest it may soon be competitive with little or no subsidy. Until that happens, don’t expect a green rush.

不过这些工具充其量也就是引玉之砖,后期还需要大量资金来绿化世界经济。为了让这一切成为现实,必须让投资人认识到低碳发展是可以带来稳定收益的。有的事例挺让人泄气的:CRC微风金融公司(CRC Breeze Finance)专门为数家风场募集资金,等风场运行的效果达不到预期之后,惨被降级成垃圾基金。有的消息听上去倒还挺有希望:风能和太阳能的成本正在下降,就是说二者很快就只需要很少的补贴甚至不需要补贴,从而变得极具竞争力。当然在那之前,淘 “绿” 热还是别想了。


印刷版 |金融与经济